The 2023 season for the Atlanta Braves has been one that will not soon be forgotten. They're one of the few teams that has lived up to pre-season hype and brought it through the regular season. In fact, they outdid themselves.
What the Braves did this season is, well, historical. You've probably heard the numbers by now: 41 homers/73 stolen bases; 54 homers, 139 RBIs; 307 homers, 281 strike-outs; 104 wins. One team did all that. One.
All those numbers accounted for either a major league best or franchise best from the loaded Braves' roster that included individuals like the likely MVP Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, and Spencer Strider. But on Saturday, all those numbers reset back to zero as the Braves begin the MLB Playoffs in the NLDS.
A team of dominance
There hasn't been a team quite as dominating as the Braves this season. Sure, the Los Angeles Dodgers were good (100-62), the Tampa Bay Rays won their first 13 games of the regular season, and the Baltimore Orioles surprised everyone with their youthful group winning the AL East with 101 wins. But this was the Braves' year.
The Braves nearly set another record with All-Star selections, falling just one short of the record of nine players. They accomplished this through some sort of methodical sorcery that GM Alex Anthopoulos continues to perform by letting go of some of his once-primed, fan-favorite possessions and replacing them with, for lack of a better term, off-brand versions of them — even though their play is far from off-brand.
Matt Olson surely hasn't been off-brand or Freddie Freeman-lite. His historic franchise-record-setting home run and RBI season is proof of that. Orlando Arcia is perhaps the biggest surprise of them all, though, maybe even a little more than what Anthopoulos expected, and better than what he did when he picked up four outfielders in 2021 that helped Atlanta win the World Series. And that's simply because the Braves replaced one player (Acuna) with four players, while Arcia was plugged right into Dansby Swanson's spot.
A World Series for Acuna
The story is that of Acuna, however. That's what this team has always been about. Since the day Acuna debuted for the Braves back in April of 2018, Atlanta has been building a championship around him. That's why it was so demoralizing when they lost him in 2021 after tearing his ACL, when he was beginning to have a season much like he had this year. And while you can argue that they still did it without him that year, any Braves fan would probably tell you that not having him out on that field during the World Series made what this Braves team has been building feel just a tad incomplete. Even Braves' manager Brian Snitker told Acuna after Atlanta clinched the NL East, “You're going to be playing in the World Series this time.” Let's hope he's right.
Historical season needs historical result
For 26 years, all any Braves fan could tell you about was 1995, when they won their lone World Series title after all those divisional titles they won back during the 1990s and early 2000s. It was all the “Big Three” — Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine — and Chipper Jones. Now, anytime you enter Truist Park or when Braves' fans invade a visitor's park, you'll see “2021 World Series Champions” tees, with Austin Riley, Max Fried, Freddie Freeman and others from that year's team on them.
The Braves have their recent taste of history, as Snitker told them, “You know what, boys, you guys are going to be world champions for the rest of your lives.” That's a banner that will be hanging in Truist Park until the end of time or until the Braves decide to build another place to call home, while the trophy itself will be nestled in the bowels of the stadium.
The urgency, the hesitancy, the need, the fear — it isn't there like it was all those years before when the Braves couldn't win it all or even make their way out of the first round of the MLB Playoffs. But what a shame it would be for such a historical team, one that has surpassed any and all predictions and projections that most have had for them, not to live up to the one that was called upon and predicted now — the World Series. That's why the Braves must win the 2023 World Series.